It seems that nearly every week, consumers are confronted with headlines about new foods that reportedly cause cancer. The latest major example came last October, when the World Health Organization (WHO) added bacon and other processed meats to the list. Other recent reports have included soda, potato chips, refined sugar and even microwave popcorn.
This news leads many people to ask, “Well what can I eat?” Others are frustrated that food recommendations often change or contradict each other. Eggs are okay to eat again, yet for 40 years the federal government recommended avoiding them. Red wine offers health benefits, yet researchers know alcohol increases cancer risk. The list goes on.
“This lack of consensus can breed mistrust among the public and lead people to tune out entirely,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Encouraging people to take some responsibility for their health is easier when they have the information and tools to make good choices.”
But with many different organizations and researchers constantly releasing studies, how can you separate the truth from the hype?
1. Consider the Source
Next time you see an attention-grabbing headline, take a minute to find out a few key details:
- Who is saying it? Give more weight to findings from well-known organizations and take single studies published by medical journals with a grain of salt. Articles like this one explain why it’s so hard to find reliable scientific results, so let experts at leading organizations help sort out fact from fiction.
- How many people were involved? Quality studies use actual data from thousands of people over a long period of time. Beware of studies that include only a few hundred people or rely on asking subjective questions to gather their results.
- What do the authors actually say? News outlets tend to oversimplify the issue to attract readers. An article titled “Processed meats do cause cancer – WHO” also includes this quote: “The risk of developing colorectal cancer … remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.” Reading past the headline often reveals nuances that show the issue isn’t so cut and dry.
2. Make Realistic Changes
Even though red meat has been linked to cancer, most people aren’t rushing to give up hamburgers and bacon for good. As with most things in life, the key is moderation and making lasting changes. Reduce your intake of food and drink products linked to cancer by cutting back on portion sizes or reducing them to once or twice a week. At the same time, increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables linked to lowering cancer risk (e.g., leafy greens, broccoli, berries and apples).
3. Know Your Own Risk Factors
Your cancer risk depends on more than diet alone. It’s also dependent on your gender, physical fitness, whether you smoke and your genetics. Before you worry about whether hot tea could give you cancer, make sure you’re avoiding known carcinogens like smoking, occupational exposures and the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Next, find out if there is a history of cancer in your family, and if so, what types of cancer. Then bring this information to your health care provider so you can both make more informed decisions about your health.
The LHSFNA offers many publications on making healthy lifestyle choices to reduce your cancer risk, including the Laborers’ Health & Wellness: Cancer and Smoking: Facts and Quitting Tips pamphlets. Order these and other publications in our online Publications Catalogue.